New publishing trend: Cookbooks with impossible recipes to execute

 Heston Blumenthal

The Telegraph recently issued a bit of a diatribe against Heston Blumethal's new book, Historic Heston. In the article, Heston Blumenthal's new book: These faux cookbooks leave me simmering, they write, "The book itself is beautifully designed, bound, slip-cased and illustrated. As must be evident, you can't really use it to cook from at home. Not only is the domestic batterie de cuisine not up to the job; who has the time for such labour-intensive preparations?" They  further comment: "But these difficult/impossible cookery books are not exclusive to Heston. Indeed, they represent a cutting-edge publishing trend."

For an EYB perspective, we thought we'd turn the podium over to one of our indexing gurus who has a strong opinion on the subject. Her comment?

"I personally have no patience for these kinds of books, but I'm sure others find them very inspiring. I recently pro-indexed World-Class Swedish Cooking and almost ripped my hair out! It's one of those books where they wax poetic about the food with little-to-no real instructions on how to actually make the dishes, yet still call them "recipes" -- and it all just sounds so complicated.... The specific books mentioned in this article seem to provide more instructions, but are so over-the-top I really wonder if anyone short of a professional chef with a restaurant kitchen could actually find them useful!"

Obviously, these types of cookbooks can touch a nerve. So please weigh in: Can these types of cookbooks, i.e. cookbooks which include recipes few if any home cooks can tackle - find a place on your cookbook shelf?

Telegraph photo by Andrew Crowley







  • emfdvm  on  10/25/2013 at 11:03 AM

    I do think there are cookbooks that are more "educational" in nature rather than practical. There are numerous ones on my shelves that I've never made a recipe out of but have informed my cooking with theories or techniques that can be applied elsewhere. Then there are the "work horses"- the practical ones that answer the "what do I get on the table in 2 hours?" question. Both useful and both have their place in a cook's household.

  • veronicafrance  on  10/25/2013 at 11:04 AM

    Well, they wouldn't find a place on my shelves. But someone must be buying them, or the publisher's wouldn't publish them. To me they are coffee table books, not cookbooks -- to look at, not to cook from. Don't like them? Ignore them :)

  • Cynthia Nims  on  10/25/2013 at 11:24 AM

    I absolutely feel there's room for these books in the greater bookshelf of offerings today. Having heard a stat on a webinar yesterday that on average just 3 recipes are cooked from any cookbook, the measure of how much a book will be used in the kitchen is not the key indicator of overall value the book may have. Aspiration, imagination, narrative story, visual delight, exposure to new ideas---there is a lot to be gained for those interested in such things!

  • sir_ken_g  on  10/25/2013 at 11:29 AM

    I avoid actually executing such recipes like the plague. I own a very few - David Thompson's Thai Food for example - as references. If I cook from his book the first thing I do is figure out which curry he wants me to make from scratch - and pull out the closest paste from the refrigerator. I find that many Cooks Illustrated and Martha Stewart recipes fall into this category. Too fussy for the benefits.

  • sir_ken_g  on  10/25/2013 at 11:33 AM

    "Lemon grass, root ginger, bulgur, crème fraîche, sumac, poblano chillies, balsamic vinegar and smoked paprika" Funny I have all but one of those and use most regularly - but not in impossible dishes.

  • Potterhill.  on  10/25/2013 at 11:48 AM

    I have many of these cookbooks, usually written by famous chefs. And yes, I have cooked from them. But, it is very labour intensive, and it is rare that I buy these books anymore. They are just not recipes that I will be making regularly. Love to receive them as gifts however, as they are fun to read, and if the price is right, I can never resist a great looking cookbook. ;-)

  • PinchOfSalt  on  10/25/2013 at 12:09 PM

    My rule of thumb regarding cookbook purchases is that if the book has three recipes that I will make from time to time, it is worth it. Otherwise, the book is a waste of space and money. Any tips or techniques that may be found in a book that I cannot or will not cook from can be found elsewhere, if the knowledge is, indeed, truly useful.

  • Laurie Pfalzer  on  10/25/2013 at 1:22 PM

    Yes, these books have a place. Isn't this what many cooks/non-cooks said about Julia Child's first book? And yet, people cooked from it. Although these books may not be the first you reach for when trying to whip up dinner, they often make great reference books for both techniques and ingredients.

  • Susan_F  on  10/25/2013 at 1:59 PM

    I think this comment on the Telegraph article says it all: "Cookery books such as this are akin to the confections worn on the catwalks of fashion shows: exotic, absurd, even laughable and ultimately ignored as most of us traipse to Primark, BHS, Next or Marks & Spencer for our clothes."

  • TrishW  on  10/26/2013 at 7:15 AM

    Absolutely do these cookbooks deserve to be on our shelf - if the photos are beautiful & the stories intriguing. Some cookbooks are just meant to be read, like a good novel. It's inspiring to me to read a book like that & know that someone out there has the talent, tenacity, & time to prepare something magnificent. It doesn't have to be me.

  • FuzzyChef  on  10/26/2013 at 9:58 PM

    The market for cookbooks with recipes you actually cook is necessarily limited. In my very modest cookbook collection, EYB tells me that I have over 15,000 recipes. The vast majority of those I will never make. This means that there is a larger market for cookbooks to *read* than there is for cookbooks to *cook from*. Why else would humorous, historical, travelogue, and family history cookbooks be so popular? The Food Channel realized this years ago, fielding cooking shows for good-looking hostesses who couldn't cook. Blumenthal and the others are merely extending this trend into the "uber-haute" territory; you are not *meant* to cook from these books, you are meant to be inspired by them.

  • boardingace  on  10/27/2013 at 9:25 PM

    No, these books would not find a place on my shelf. I'm the opposite - if I can't use a cookbook and don't use it extremely regularly, it's not in my house. But that's just my personal preference towards semi-minimalism. I can understand how other cooks would find these books inspirational and/or fun to read.

  • enassar  on  10/28/2013 at 3:08 PM

    Absolutely they do. Historic Heston is one of my most anticipated books this fall and it's on pre-order. To elaborate, I am not referring to glossy books with zero to little instructions that are really nothing more than manifestos or coffee table decoration (maybe that's what that Swedish book was). The books i love are ones that do not pander and with recipes that, if you have the time and inclination, can execute. Even if I do not make a single recipe from Historic Heston (I made none from his Feasts book but made a few from Fat Duck), I am sure it will be a pleasure to read, thoroughly researched and, for anyone with a lot of interest in food and history, a prized possession. I have no patience for those who run out and buy a book and their only criticism is "oh the recipes are too complicated" and that book is something like Daniel or The Fat Duck. Well what did you expect?? I have all kinds of books, books with recipes for weeknight meals and others that I love to read from and maybe make an elaborate dinner from once in a while. BTW, is it really a trend?? compared to 20 years ago, maybe. I for one I am glad that we have more options now. Ever since The French Laundry cookbook came out, restaurant chefs are not obligated to only publish an "at home" watered down version of their recipes. That is a good thing.

  • TessParson  on  10/31/2013 at 7:40 AM

    I heard the same statistic from the webinar that Cynthia Nims referred to (from Publishers Weekly data) - on average, only 3 recipes from every cookbook are actually attempted by the book's owner. People buy cookbooks not only to cook from them but to read the author's stories, learn from recipe headnotes, and admire the beautiful photography. People read cookbooks these days like they read novels - curled up on a sofa or in bed. Often they give readers a glimpse into foreign lands and cultures. They can provide elaborate instructions and illustrations about cooking techniques. Sometimes there are funny stories about domestic life and picky eaters. In sum, there are many reasons to buy cookbooks. I enjoy my beautiful and complicated cookbooks as much as I enjoy my workhorse cookbooks - the ones I use every day in the kitchen. And despite what another reader says, I think the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks have recipes that are extremely approachable and easily executed. I have lots of them and they have never let me down in the kitchen. So yes, let the cookbooks with challenging recipes continue to be produced and sold!

  • jp010038  on  11/1/2013 at 8:19 AM

    Personally, I have stopped putting cookbooks with recipes I'll never attempt on my shelves. That said, the scope of recipes I'll attempt has expanded to embrace more of a challenge. Still, some are too far out of bounds in terms of inaccessible ingredients, extremely specialized equipment. Again, my concept of ingredients and equipment has also expanded over the years, but still, some are too far over the line.

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